A Focused Path
Alexis Johnston knew exactly what career she was aiming for when she came to Washington College and chose to major in environmental science, with a minor in justice, law, and society. With the goal of becoming a Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) officer, the Kent County native is poised to graduate a semester early—all part of her plan to be ready to attend the police academy in the spring of 2020.
“I grew up in the outdoors, I hunt and fish with my dad all the time,” says Alexis, whose mother is a retired state trooper and whose father is a lieutenant in the Queen Anne County Sheriff’s office. “And wildlife conservation has been an integral part in growing up.”
By the start of her final semester, she had already applied to the NRP and passed her physical test, written exam, and interview. By Dec. 1, she should know if she’s going to the police academy in February for nine months of training.
The summer before her final semester, she went on the Bermuda Environment field course, offered through the departments of Environmental Science and Studies and Biology. About a dozen students spent ten days based at BIOS, the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, for hands-on research that includes hiking, snorkeling, and diving.
“It was amazing,” says Alexis, who hadn’t been out the U.S. before. The experience particularly opened her eyes to the global problem of plastics in the marine environment. Though she’d studied the issue as part of her major, she’d never really been confronted with the reality until she and other students started finding plastics of all sizes and types on the beaches.
“That was the big takeaway for me…A lot of people don’t really think about how they are affecting the environment. People throw their trash out the window of their car when they’re going down the road, and I don’t think they think about where that cup is going to go. And if they actually took the time to look at that and think about it, maybe it would change their perspective a little bit.”
The experience has made her rethink her approach to plastic trash in her daily life, whether she sees trash on the street or is serving someone drinks at the Fishwhistle restaurant, where she has worked nearly 30 hours a week throughout college.
“Honestly, any piece of trash on the ground is going to end up in the Chesapeake Bay, and it’s not only going to affect our environment here, it’s going to end up in the ocean. It really made me more aware of how I personally deal with trash and how I deal with other people’s trash if I see it.”
For her Senior Capstone Experience, Alexis is conducting an experiment comparing the emissions of four-stroke and two-stroke outboard engines, something she’s very familiar with since she’s on the water frequently in outboard-powered boats.
“I’m on the water all the time and I’m like, what is this exhaust doing to the water? Part of it is pumped right into the water, the other half is blown onto the water. So you know it goes in there,” she says. She’ll look at emissions from each, how much they emit, and whether and how quickly they evaporate or stay in the water.